Driving Under the Influence of Canada: Possession of Strange, Foreign Driver’s License Sends Woman to Georgia Slammer


Any number of unpleasant things can befall a motorist after an unexpected, police-initiated roadside stop. Asset seizure being just one of the dangers. Of course, suspected drug use can also ruin your day, as well as your life.

For an Ontario woman pulled over for speeding on the I-75 in Cook County, Georgia, the item that landed her in jail was exactly what the officer asked for: a driver’s license. Sorry, wrong country, she was told.

According to CBC, the 27-year-old woman’s legal saga started in April. While driving back to Tennessee through Georgia, Emily Nield, who recently completed a master’s degree in geology in the Volunteer State, was pulled over for doing 87 mph in a 70 zone.

While this type of encounter would normally leave a motorist fuming over a pricey ticket, Nield soon found herself in handcuffs. When handed an Ontario driver’s license, the officer was in no mood to recognize Georgia law, which states that non-U.S. residents are allowed to drive with a valid license from their country of origin.

“She kept saying, ‘No, Canadian licences are not accepted,’” Nield told CBC. “I was flabbergasted. I just kept saying this can’t be right — a Canadian licence is always valid.”

Foreign motorists might find themselves asked to produce identification — like a passport — to prove that everything’s on the up and up. That’s exactly what the officer asked Nield, who claims to have had a copy of her passport, birth certificate, and Nexus card on her phone. However, the officer wanted hard copies.

“When I failed to produce it, she reached through the window of my car and she put handcuffs on me,” said Nield. “She told me that I have just been arrested for driving without a licence and that I needed to go to jail.”

And that’s exactly where she ended up. However, before having her photo and prints taken (and told that she was firmly “in the system” now), she fired off a Snapchat video to her friends, appealing for help. Maybe social media does have its uses. A friend tracked Nield down in Adel, Georgia, and contacted the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, after which Nield was allowed a phone call. She claims her requests for a call with the Canadian Consulate or her parents went unanswered.

Nield eventually put up her own bail via a debit card ($880 USD), thus avoiding the unpleasant experience of waiting in jail until her June 12th court appearance rolled around. Getting her car out of impound cost $200. Still, it’s wasn’t the financial penalties that worried Nield.

“I just kept thinking this would ruin me,” Nield told CBC. “Any job application you have to check a box. Are you a criminal? Have you ever been convicted or arrested for anything?”

Luckily for Nield, a friend’s father worked as a lawyer in Virginia. With the help of the consulate, the lawyer leaned on local authorities, and three days later the charge was off the books. However, it’s not hard to imagine a more drawn out ordeal had this been someone without useful connections and know-how.

Despite her arrest no longer being in the system, Nield remains disturbed by what happened. The Cook County probate court solicitor, Matthew Bennett, said Canadians and other non-U.S. drivers should make sure to carry their identification while plying American roadways, but that’s not what landed Nield in jail. Nield said it wouldn’t have mattered if she was carrying the original documents, as the officer wasn’t prepared to recognize any Canadian license as legal. (Bad news for the thousands of snowbirds who drive south each winter in search of heat.)

For that, she’d like to see an apology — if not a formal reprimand for the arresting officer.

[Image: Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)]